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whirlowdale-old-imageThe early days: 1979 to 1981

Roy Pearce started his career in the wholesale fruit and vegetable business during the 1960s. 

In 1979, Roy, who is father of the present Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Andrew Pearce, founded Whirlowdale as a trading company operating in the fresh produce industry, with three colleagues who had worked in the fruit and vegetable wholesale business with him during the 1970s. 

The company was started in Roy’s dining room and was named after the area of Sheffield in which he lived.  Several years of experience in the wholesale fresh produce markets had given Roy an understanding of what food producers wanted.  He had also recognised an opportunity, having been asked so many times to ‘get rid of’ used pallets and packaging crates that had been used to supply fruit and vegetables to, what was at the time, the emerging supermarket sector. 

“I knew there was a better way than burning all this valuable material,” said Roy Pearce. “I thought that if we could come up with a way to supply everything that the producers and markets needed and reuse and recycle the pallets and packaging, we would be able to save money for customers and make a business out of it.”  And that’s what they did!

At that time in the late 1970s, there were few, if any national pallet solutions providers.  Roy and his colleagues started supplying pallets to major customers such as the Milk Marketing Board, Beechams, Paynes Poppets and Roger Daltrey Fisheries, to name but a few.

picAlongside this, he also traded in supplying Yorkstone, Church Pews and Antiques to generate additional revenue.

With the supermarkets starting to gain a strong following in the early 1980s and the Government’s investment in the road and motorway network infrastructure, the movement of goods up and down the country increased. 

1981: The pallet business really starts to take off

Whirlowdale soon secured contracts with producers such as Rowntree, United Biscuits and Lyons Tetley – businesses which at that time had their own bespoke size pallets, which they managed themselves.  Roy, sensing another entrepreneurial opportunity, struck a deal to buy entire pallet fleets from these companies, as more of them factored out their distribution to specialist providers.

He also convinced a number of food producers that it made sense to move to a standard industry size pallet, which would be managed by Whirlowdale, rather than having their own bespoke pallets that they managed inhouse.  At this time there was also a great requirement for standardisation in the distribution of goods and Roy recognised the opportunity to be able to offer these food producers a ‘one stop shop’ pallet service. This was the start of Whirlowdale’s pallet management service, which provided a blueprint for the future of the business.

At this time, Whirlowdale was buying hundreds of thousands of pallets from major food producers and knew that it needed to develop a national infrastructure to be able to supply pallets regionally. 

pic1982-85: National distribution network set up

In 1981, Whirlowdale bought a site close to the M1 in Rotherham, which is still the company’s headquarters today, to serve mainly the North of England. 

In 1982 the company acquired a site at Burton on Trent to serve the Midlands area and a further location in Essex in 1988 to provide a dedicated service to customers in the South of England.

It was in 1985 that Andrew Pearce, Roy’s son, joined the business after studying a Business Studies course at University.   He had spent a great deal of time working alongside his father learning about the business during weekends and school holidays and so joined the sales office in Rotherham.

At that time, few pallet businesses were able to offer a national distribution service, which gave Whirlowdale, with depots around the UK, the edge on its competitors.    With three sites capable of repairing and reconditioning pallets, Whirlowdale was able to distribute to customers around the country and became one of the early pioneers of pallet management as we know it today.

pic1989: Whirlowdale enters new pallet business

In 1989, Whirlowdale bought Alton Packaging in Hampshire, a pallet manufacturing business which enabled the company to enter the new pallet sector.   This enabled the company to continue its expansion by supplying new pallets, largely to the food, retail and pharmaceutical sector.

In 1997, Andrew Pearce recognised the opportunity to double the Whirlowdale business overnight, whilst acquiring another pallet manufacturing business – JB Kind in Burton on Trent.  This major acquisition provided considerable economies of scale and increased Whirlowdale’s competitiveness in the process.

With the backing and investment of the Whirlowdale Group, the JB Kind once again became a successful, standalone, business, selling high quality internal and exterior doors to merchants, housebuilders and self builders across the UK.

In 2002, private prison HMP Dovegate in Uttoxeter approached Whirlowdale to see if the company wanted to collaborate with them, so inmates could produce new pallets at their ‘working’ prison.

Working in conjunction with the prison has enabled Whirlowdale to significantly enhance its new pallet production capabilities, whilst ‘giving’ something back to society. The prison has the capacity to produce 100,000 new pallets per month for Whirlowdale as well as smaller volumes of specialist pallets to suit customers’ needs. Supporting inmates in this way means that they eventually reintegrate society with new work-based skills that will help them gain employment. 

The JB Kind factory was based in a prime residential spot in the middle of Burton, so in 2008, Andrew and Roy Pearce decided to sell the site and move the business to a purpose-built industrial site on the outskirts of Burton, which generated extra capital that the company was able to invest back into the business. 

andrew-pearce2007: A new era for Whirlowdale

Between 2007 and 2009, Roy Pearce bought out the other shareholders, many of whom were near retirement, and became sole owner of the business.  In 2009, he decided to retire from the business and Andrew Pearce took over as Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Andrew has invested in the future growth of the business, specifically focusing on the Commercial and Operations side of the business.  He has also introduced a share option scheme for the management as part of enhancing loyalty and further motivating the team to drive the business forward.

“ We have a national network offering both new and reconditioned pallets, as well as plastic and cardboard pallets to suit company’s needs.  We know and understand the pallet industry inside out, as we’ve been trading in it for over 35 years, but we aren’t complacent.  We are continually learning about our customer’s needs and coming up with solutions that are efficient and cost effective.”

2014 onwards: Exciting future ahead!

Andrew, who is equally as entrepreneurial as his father, has an exciting new vision for the business and aims to double its size within the next few years.

“Having invested in our business we are now better placed than ever to achieve growth,” says Andrew Pearce, Chief Executive Officer of Whirlowdale.  “We have always been and will continue to be a very customer-focused business.”

Whirlowdale’s export business is growing too.  The business supplies wood and plastic pallets across Europe – and is increasingly selling cardboard pallets to a number of customers for air freight.  The business is also sourcing large numbers of pallets from Europe to offer to UK-based companies, which is a growing area of the business.

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